This is a subject that polarizes many opinions and has had far-reaching implications everywhere on the globe. Reason being that when we speak of privilege, automatically, some people targetted by race-oriented privilege labels will object, demonstrating in many ways why THEY are not privileged. It is my aim here to elucidate first the modern notion of what “privilege” is in society, and then to go on into the very prevalent “white privilege”.
As far as society goes, a privilege is something that is not a right. You are either born or not in it and you can earn such a privilege during life. Individually speaking, privilege does (should) not see race. One of the primary misconceptions that accompany the term “white privilege” is that any one individual whoso happens to be white is thus privileged and lives a life in luxury and service from their loyal henchmen.
As far as Society goes, however, privilege can be things like having health insurance that cover a certain amount of treatments but not others. It can be owning a car, which allows you to go from point A to B quicker. These things are typically bought with money, but once you have them, your life becomes easier, in some ways than for those without them.
A person without health insurance will have to pay full price every time they ask for any sort of medical assistance (medicine, hospital emergency room visit, doctor’s appointment…), thus they are less privileged, in that sense, than a person who has health insurance. One could say that Canadians overall are more privileged, in that sense, than Americans overall, because Canadians have a publically funded health system and a visit to the E.R. is normally free (parking tickets notwithstanding, if you come by car).
So, on a societal basis, privilege is things acquired that allow you to perform more than those without said privilege. It is typically earned as a result of hard work, such as the retirement that you take when you reach old age or the ownership of your very first house as a result of said work. You receive said privileges because you worked for them. All of these things, based on how your charters of rights is written, are not rights.
You are not born with an inherent right to a car nor are you born with an inherent right to healthcare (in America, for example). While the hippocratic oath should earn you the right to receive healthcare, you will still have to pay for it, and thus unless you have the money to pay for healthcare, you will not receive it.
Privilege in Terms of Social Standing
The confusion that I described in the earlier segment can be further explained here. Some people are born in more privilege than others. For example, a wealthy person will be born with a set of pre-determined assets that will sky-rocket them through life. Certainly, however, their parents will be much more strict on how they perform at school and will be told that they were born to do great things. Still, a person that is born wealthy does not have the insecurity of a person born in poverty, whose every waking hour can be spent wondering whether food will be on the table tonight.
The wealthy person has the privilege of having their parents pay for their tuition and thus reaching their pre-determined alma matter. Due to this, a wealthy person and a poor person will have very differing lives that all come down to being born in privilege or a lack thereof. Some exceptions do exist and of course, a wealthy person can fall from grace and become poor and lose all their privilege and vice versa, but privilege, as I said in the first section, does not or should not see race. Therefore, this comes down to how you were born, where you were born and when you were born. A person with lacking privilege at the get-go will be born within a dysfunctional family, who painstakingly get from one pay to the other, always fighting, and this person will struggle in school as a result of poor family union and perhaps abusive parents. This could be true of a privileged family as well as an underprivileged family, but it happens much more often in underprivileged families.
Most violence in children statistics will demonstrate that poverty attracts crime, and thus we can see that a lack of privilege invariably leads to delinquent behavior, due to the realization that others simply have it better than us because they were born in that state. Therefore, it remains that people born in privilege will more often than not proceed to become as wealthy as their forefathers and those in underprivileged conditions will most often persist in this path to poverty and possibly reach wealth much later on in their lives, due to the much more difficult path they have to follow.
A wealthy person will emerge at a young age with a University degree and will be given room in a relative’s company to do a high-paying salary, and should they fail, their parents (still wealthy themselves) will be capable of rescuing their failure. Not so for underprivileged parents. The inequality begins to draw itself here, and lines in the sand become clearer and where privileged and underprivileged folk gather ends up being two different sides of a coin.
Defining White Privilege
White Privilege is thus a combination of many things but draws attention not to every white person but rather the group on its own. It is ridiculous to presume that every single white person is privileged but not so for the majority of it. While white people populate most of the Occidental regions of the world, they are just as present in poverty numbers as other races. Despite the fact that we’d rather live in a society where races do not exist, as many now recognize them as mere social constructs, our history has been tainted with economic and sociological functions that enabled such behavior. We work in a system that saw the rise of nationalism and whose institutions deeply require privilege. For the man who owns the company is much more privileged than the man who works for him.
As a result, when the Industrial Revolution was hitting it off, it would be safe to assume that a vast majority of entrepreneurs in the Occidental world were white. Their progeny were bequeathed these vast companies and while some fell, the majority has remained into white hands, in a deeply racist world which did not recognize the rights of people of color all that well (often times, not at all). Imperialist Brittain and growing America both had their problems with human rights and used the underprivileged to make their economies grow. This system has created the illusion that white people are simply more deserving of wealth and others just don’t want to work for their money.
It is nonsensical to presume such is the case, because if everyone became a CEO of a company, there would be no workers to drive the economy forward. Simply put, the system REQUIRES privilege in order to stay afloat. As white people were given much more space for a very long time in work forces than any other demographic, especially in better-paying jobs, they have had a legacy of substantially better privilege than other races. So, when we are in 2016 and people tell us that there is no racially-defined privilege, they are saying that the system that exists today, which is largely the same as in the 19th century, no longer exists.
Women of color primarily suffered from this system, which not only despised having women in the work force (augmented production means needing to offer more for growing demands) but particularly did not wish to have too many women of color in high places. Simply because the privilege was a White Supremacy, and the whites began to think that everybody depended on their privilege for their continued existence. This system cannot vanish in mere decades nor can it vanish by allowing women to work. On the contrary, we have inserted people of color and women into a system that profits the privileged at the expense of the underprivileged.
So, what is white privilege, then? It is an institutionalized distribution of wealth and property based on race that has been used as a legacy from generation to generation, and almost always in the same hands. Wealth belongs primarily to white individuals in American society, and those who own the most things are white people. With ownership comes greater buying power and therefore, the economy caters to white people needs, the more privileged, rather than the needs of people of color and women. Because it is men who lead the charge and it is men who make the legislation (in majority, again, and white, again).
Does the System Work?
That is all well and good but a preferred rebuttal to all of this might be rightfully exist in the form of: “Yes, but that’s how the system works and it is the best system we have.” My answer to this would be quite simple. Imagine you are playing chess with your friend, and that there are people supporting the chess table. Every now and then the game ends and you have to start over again. When the game ends, some of the people supporting the chess board die from exhaustion. Eventually, no one will be there to allow you to play chess, because they are simply incapable of maintaining the pressure which allows you to comfortably play your chess game, while they suffer down there from the pressure of chess pieces you play to defeat your adversary. What happens then? You are left with only your own hands and feet to support the chess board. You cannot, because you are only two, and you needed all these people down there to keep playing.
That is privilege, and if you lift up the board and look at who is playing the game, you will find that a majority of those who support the chess board (but cannot play the game) are people of color. Then when you look at who is playing against you, that person is white, as you are. The socio-economic system in which we exist is made for failures, it is meant for endgames where people have to pick up the pieces, but every time, a portion of the population dies from the failures. Eventually, there will be no more financial crises because there will be no one left to pick up the pieces.
It is imperative that privilege be denounced where it exists and it is imperative that it is done away with, but… Would you rather be supporting the chess board or playing on it?